Final licence release for reclaimed Cluff Lake mine

12 May 2023

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has revoked the uranium mine licence held by Orano Canada Inc for the fully decommissioned Cluff Lake Project in northwestern Saskatchewan, clearing the way for Orano to transfer the site to the Province of Saskatchewan - a first for any modern uranium mine in Canada.

Cluff Lake as it is today (Image: Orano)

The project, which is some 75 km south of Lake Athabasca and 15 km east of the border with the Province of Alberta, operated from 1979 to 2002, producing more than 62 million pounds U3O8 (23,848 tU) from two underground mines and four open pit mines. The operation also included a tailings management facility, a mill and other support facilities. The Cluff Lake Project is located on Treaty 8 territory, the Homeland of the Métis, and is within the traditional territories of the Dene, Cree, and Métis people.

Cluff Lake was fully decommissioned in 2013, and has already been made accessible to Indigenous Nations and communities and members of the public for hunting, fishing, camping and harvesting. Orano now intends to transfer the site to Saskatchewan's Institutional Control Program (ICP), which was set up by the province in 2007 as part of its institutional control framework for the long-term management of decommissioned and reclaimed mine and mill sites on provincial Crown lands.

The CNSC's decision to revoke the current operating licence, under which Orano is authorised to possess, manage and store nuclear substances that are associated with the historic uranium mine and mill operations at Cluff Lake, was made after a public hearing held on 1 March, and means that the transfer of the site to the ICP can now go ahead. The commission has also exempted the Province of Saskatchewan from licensing for the site - such an exemption is required before the site can be accepted into the ICP.

"After reviewing all submissions and interventions, the commission concluded that the decommissioning objectives and criteria established for the Cluff Lake Project have been met, that the site is passively safe, and that the site will remain passively safe for the long term … the commission also concluded that exempting the Province of Saskatchewan from licensing under the NSCA (the Nuclear Safety and Control Act) for the Cluff Lake Project site will not pose an unreasonable risk to the environment, to the health and safety of persons, or to national security, nor will it result in a failure to achieve conformity with measures of control and international obligations to which Canada has agreed," the CNSC said.

"The best demonstration of responsible mining is the remediation management," Orano Mining President Nicolas Maes said, adding that the CNSC decision "is the recognition of the Orano's expertise in sustainable mine closure which is part of our DNA".

Orano Canada President and CEO Jim Corman said he was grateful both to the company's staff for their commitment to the project and their work to ensure that the land is available for local traditional use, and to the the Indigenous, Métis and other community members who shared their knowledge of the lands. "We have many employees who remember the days of working at Cluff Lake and we celebrate the successful decommissioning of the project. Work will continue with the Province to transfer the property into the Institutional Control Program," he said.

The CNSC has previously released properties at legacy uranium mining sites to provincial control, but Cluff Lake is the first decommissioned "modern" uranium mine to reach this milestone.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News